In this file image made from a video taken on March 28, 2018, Michael Kovrig, an adviser with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based non-governmental organization, speaks during an interview in Hong Kong.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

In this file image made from a video taken on March 28, 2018, Michael Kovrig, an adviser with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based non-governmental organization, speaks during an interview in Hong Kong.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

Chinese allow Michael Kovrig telephone call to sick father amid COVID-19

Since the outbreak, the Chinese government has ‘tried its best to address their reasonable concerns’ of the detainees

Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese embassy in Canada says Michael Kovrig has been allowed to have a telephone conversation with his father, who is very ill.

The embassy says in a statement that they allowed this for humanitarian reasons, and it also says Kovrig and fellow detainee Michael Spavor are being given better food to strengthen their immunity against the novel coronavirus, which originated in China.

“China’s judicial authorities have ensured that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have received adequate humanitarian treatment as other suspects of the same kind,” the statement says.

“Both of them are physically sound and mentally stable. Their lawful rights are fully protected.”

Since the outbreak, the Chinese government has “tried its best to address their reasonable concerns” of the detainees.

“The authorities have provided better food for all the detainees, including Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, so as to help strengthen their immunity,” the statement says.

“Second, given the relevant detention centres have been totally enclosed due to the epidemic, to ensure their contacts with the Canadian Consular agencies in China, the frequency of transference of letters and parcels to Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor has been increased as interim arrangements.”

The embassy does not provide further details about the condition of Kovrig’s father, and does not specify whether his medical condition has anything to do with the current global pandemic.

READ MORE: Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

“The Chinese authorities, proceeding from humanitarian consideration, have allowed Michael Kovrig to have a phone conversation with his father as a special arrangement within the law, when they learned that Michael Kovrig’s father is very ill,” said the statement. ”The aforementioned measures have fully demonstrated China’s goodwill, and Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have expressed their gratitude.”

But Friday’s Chinese statement also maintains Beijing’s firm position since the events of December 2018, which have plunged Sino-Canadian relations to a new low. Kovrig, a diplomat on leave who was working with the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, have been imprisoned in China since December 2018. Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou nine days earlier.

Friday’s statement says Kovrig and Spavor are “suspected” of endangering China’s national security and their cases are being handled lawfully while the Canadian government can’t “explain which law of Canada Ms. Meng Wanzhou violated.”

“For some time, a few people in Canada have been hyping up the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and comparing them to the case of the innocent Chinese citizen who was arbitrarily detained by Canada,” the embassy says.

The update represents a window into the secretive detention of the two Canadians; neither government has provided great detail about the conditions under which the “two Michaels” are being kept. Each has been allowed regular consular visits about once a month, but so far, neither man has been allowed contact with their family, or access to a lawyer.

Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, recently said little is being said about the two men to adhere to the wishes of their families.

The Canadian government maintains the “two Michaels” are being arbitrarily detained.

Meng was arrested by the RCMP on an extradition request from the U.S.

Meng is out on bail and living in a luxury Vancouver home, as her extradition hearing remains before a British Columbia court.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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